Friday, June 22, 2007

God bless Irwin Cohen. He is the retired federal judge who has organized the drive to name the new library in Rockville the Rockville Memorial Library. Last night, with the help of the local American Legion Post, he brought together community members, veterans, friends, and at least two sets of parents to honor the fallen of Montgomery County, Maryland. They read the names, with a toll of a ship’s bell for each man (only men this time) named, all seven of them. The ceremony was held at twilight—a heavy rainstorm blew through just before we were to start at 8:30 but had lightened some by the time we actually started. The sun was setting on the longest day of sunlight of the year, and in the east we could see a gorgeous rainbow bending across the sky, a sign of promise. The ceremony was short—a color guard, the Pledge of Allegiance, a traditional prayer from the Post chaplain, the reading of the names, a one shot volley, and Taps.

We had debated with ourselves about coming because Thomas had really not liked attention, but in the end Richard and I went, despite the rain. We are so glad we did. It gave us a chance to talk with local reporters and tell them why this is important to us, to talk to the community members who had offered their support, to thank Irwin for his efforts, and to be with our fellow parents, because no matter how bereft we felt together, it was better to be together than apart.

After everyone had drifted on, Richard and Debbie and I went to the Five Guys that was on the edge of the library plaza to get something to drink. The man behind the counter asked what had been going on and we explained the entire thing: the library naming controversy and the fact that our son was among the fallen. I didn’t get this guy’s name, but he was retired recently from the Navy, having served aboard the U.S.S. Iowa during the late 80’s when a large explosion killed 47 of his fellow sailors. He knew why this memorial is important to us, and his younger colleague was absolutely supportive as well. It was kind of a nice moment of validation that we were not crazy to want to do this . . .


I had said that I was going to talk about Thomas’s personal effects and Christina this time. I might have to put that off . We are still dealing with the effects (Thomas was a bit of a clothes horse which means we have a closet full of his clothing in the basement of our house). We’ve got the stuff he had in Iraq and we have the things he left at Fort Lewis and we have the stuff he left with his friend David’s wife (including what appeared to be dirty laundry. Ewww). I'm going to have to write more on another day, I also have a lot of stuff!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

I had started a new post last week, or maybe even longer ago, when we received word that one of Thomas's Army friends had been critically injured, apparently in a training accident. A week and a half later, he passed away. It is hard to know that. This particular boy we had met and talked with, fed several times, put up and guided around Washington. He had become our friend too. I'm not sure what has been released to the public yet so I'll stop.

I'm still thinking about December of 2004. We were still getting incredible volumes of mail though it was beginning to slow down. Richard had gone back to work after Thanksgiving, but he had decided to burn off some vacation time (he has trouble taking time off) and stay home for the rest of December and into the new year. Matthew was back in school, Maria was trying to straighten out her status with the Army. She had decided after talking with family friends who were military and others that she would take an entry level separation. My own reading was that she was not entirely happy about this but that she was wisely looking at her reactions to the situation and deciding that she needed some distance. To this day, she remains proud of her Army experience and draws upon it. She was able to come home for Christmas as part of the usual Christas Exodus from basic training--it took until late January for her separation to become effective. We were just happy to have her home.

I don't remember much about Christmas except for dithering about what to do with Thomas's stocking. I made each child a stocking as he or she approached the first (or maybe 2nd!) Christmas. We did our best to have a good time. Matthew got an MP3 player which he still enjoys but that's about what I remember.

I went back to work a couple of days after Christmas. It might seem odd to do this with everyone else at home, but I knew it would be a quiet time at the store and I'd be able to get back into the routine without upsetting too many people. It was a good time to figure out whether I could be out in public without wanting to run screaming into the night. My colleagues in the store were incredibly helpful, very willing to talk if I needed it, or move on if I needed that. The store's owner came by on the second day I think and asked how I was doing. For months whenever he saw me he would grip my forearm and ask how I was doing. That night I told him I didn't think I'd been too productive: he told me not to worry about it. A former employee came in too, a woman who had lived in Israel during the 70's. She did not know what had happened and was chatting about her new grandchild to a small group of us who were having a quiet moment. I finally could not deal with this and excused myself to eat lunch. She came into the lunchroom a few minutes later and said "I am so sorry." We talked for a few minutes about Thomas and his death and I could not muster up a smile. I really like her--we hadn't been close but she was funny and very smart (and could speak several languages very conveniently) and I had missed her when she left.

I think also during the course of those days, one of the store managers, Pat, told me that she too had lost a son. Kevin died of a form of leukemia the week that Thomas turned one year old. He is buried at Gate of Heaven cemetery too. This was the beginning of a long series of conversations about the feelings that come with losing a child, no matter the cause. Kevin was 23 when he died in the hospital at NIH after a failed bone marrow transplant. This story came up a number of times (it was not repetitious) and was the beginning of my conviction that telling our children's stories was one of the ways that we begin to heal. It is one of the reasons that I'm continuing to write, even though some days it seems pretty futile. But here we are.

Next time, I want to talk a little about Christina. And I need to talk a little about Thomas's personal effects. Not tonight.


Friday, June 01, 2007

Memorial Day itself was quite a lovely day. We had decided to go to the Mass being held at Gate of Heaven Cemetery, something we did last year as well. On the first Memorial Day, we had been invited to a ceremony at a cemetery in Timonium, MD, which included speeches from veterans and the presentation of a plaque by Governor Ehrlich. We received an invitation the second year for this event as well but it's a longish trip for us and Richard's mother does not do well walking on grass so we did not go. No invitation this year, but I have no idea why--we have a different governor, but I believe this function is run by the cemetery's administration--maybe they just decide to leave the families alone after a while.

After Mass, we went to Thomas's grave on the other side of the cemetery. When we arrived, we found a young man kneeling next to the grave so we asked if he had been a friend of Thomas's. It's hard to know exactly how to open up a conversation like this (what if he was there for the person who had recently been buried in the next plot?) but he stood and introduced himself as Vince, a high school friend of Thomas's. Vince was there looking to fill in some blank spots about what had happened, and we were able to tell him some things, while he told us about having known Thomas in high school--apparently the cool kids were in the International Baccalaureate program whereas Vince had just done AP classes. Mind you, Vince is in graduate school in a highly technical field now so coolness must not have been quite as useful a division as the kids thought. We gave him our phone number and e-mail address so he could stay in touch (which he has done--thanks if you see this!).

It is interesting about Thomas: people don't seem to forget him. I can't add a picture of him today because I'm on the wrong computer but he was thin and blond with size 13 feet even though he was only about 5'9" and he was very funny. When we remember him, we remember him for each other.